Lunch with Regina Schrambling at The New French

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“I think people are afraid of me,” said Regina Schrambling, creator of the web site Gastropoda, a site where she skewers food world personalities with loving names like “The Porcine Pantload,” “The Human Scratch n’ Match,” and “The Drivelist.” (I’m lucky I got away with “The Tyro” and now “The-Not-So-Tyro-Anymore.”) To say that she writes with a poisoned pen would be a profound understatement; her prose is prickly and pointed, she’s merciless in her attack of hypocrisy, idiocy, and corruption in the food world.

Normally, to be polite, I’d say, “No, they’re not afraid of you.” But there, over lunch at The New French in The West Village, I had to concur. “Yes,” I said. “I think people probably are afraid–though didn’t you once refer to yourself as having retractable fangs?”

The thing about Regina Schrambling and her blog is that she’s a brilliant writer. It’s hard not to relish the economy with which she jabs her rhetorical knife: the first wound is the wound that kills. On top of that, she’s really funny. And I suspect that most people who read her (and I know for a fact that many big-name food world figures read her religiously) delight in her acid-tipped text, as long as it’s not directed at them.

“Is it awkward for you?” I asked her over a glass of rosé (I happily followed her lead) while waiting for our food. “Do you encounter these people you make fun of in the real world?”

“Of course,” she said. “But usually they avoid me and it’s not a problem.”

We were at The New French because of the other major component of her blog, casual restaurant reviews under the category “Trails.” When Regina Schrambling calls a restaurant excellent and then specifies, “My sandwich of fresh (confit) tuna on pizza bianca was perfect, as was the huge mound of fries burying the two halves” you take her seriously. And that’s why I’d requested The New French and why, the moment I sat down, I knew I had to try the tuna. Regina didn’t steer me wrong:

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You have never had a tuna sandwich like this in your life. The tuna is confited which means it’s slow-cooked in fat–most likely, oil–which produces the moistest, tenderest, creamiest tuna you can imagine. The bread it was served on, a pizza bianca, was light and just crunchy enough. And the salad I opted for (I needed something healthy) was elegantly dressed and packed with surprising punches of raw slivered beets. This was a winner.

“Good,” said Regina. “I was nervous I’d built it up too much.”

Most of our lunch was spent storytelling: Regina talked about growing up in Arizona, her many brothers and sisters, going to work for The New York Times, and her current gig at The L.A. Times. I talked about growing up in Boca Raton, Florida; the reason I got into food and cooking and my current gig at The Food Network.

In person, Regina Schrambling is not terrifying. She’s the sardonic aunt you’d want to sit next to at Thanksgiving, grousing about overcooked turkey and alcoholic cousin Betsy. She’s also a good listener, a genuine food enthusiast who writes the way she does because she cares so much.

When lunch was over, we bid each other farewell and promised to have lunch again. She even wrote me an e-mail to say she had fun.

Then Sunday came and I cautiously, and a bit nervously, loaded up Gastropoda to see what she would say (she always updates on Sunday.) There, in the fourth post, I found myself. She was ranting about the chocolate chip cookie story that appeared in the Times two weeks ago:

“This was the biggest story in the most sophisticated food city in the country? And it made something so easy so much more complicated? People eat the goddamn dough raw. The saddest thing is that I had lunch a couple of days later with a neophyte so neo he didn’t know the Scourge of New Orleans once had a show on the teevee, let alone (barely) who Pierre Franey was, and his reaction was essentially: “Aren’t all newspaper food sections that dumb?” I felt like the combined ghost of Mme X and the Crocodile in thinking: One didn’t used to be. . . .”

It’s true, I didn’t know that the Scourge of New Orleans (read: Alan Richman) had a show on Food Network (did you?); Pierre Franey only lived in my brain because of “The United States of Arugula” and I didn’t quite get why the chocolate chip cookie story bothered her so much, so I said all newspaper food sections run inane stories like that–it sells papers. (And actually, I didn’t think that story was so inane: I’m pretty eager to try that recipe.) As for Mme. X and the Crocodile, I’m stumped, but the truth remains: I’d been Schramblinged and I loved it.

To quote John Cougar Mellencamp: “it hurts so good, come on baby make it hurt so good.”

Here’s to another lunch with Regina Schrambling.

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